Mil­i­tari­sa­tion: our new re­sponse to so­ci­etal is­sues

Call to arms in Cape Flats brings back haunt­ing mem­o­ries of apartheid

Cape Argus - - OPINION - Jodi Wil­liams

Po­lice Min­is­ter Fik­ile Mbalula and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille have, in re­cent weeks, called for the de­ploy­ment of the South African Na­tional De­fence Force (SANDF) to the Cape Flats to com­bat crime and gang-re­lated vi­o­lence. While there have been no for­mal pro­cesses put in place yet to the call backed by many, the ul­ti­mate de­ci­sion, as out­lined by the con­sti­tu­tion, rests with the pres­i­dent.

Cape Flats res­i­dents have come out in sup­port of mil­i­tari­sa­tion – which is most likely out of sheer des­per­a­tion from the decades of ne­glect by pro­vin­cial and na­tional gov­ern­ment in ad­dress­ing the deep-rooted, his­tor­i­cal and sys­temic is­sues on the Cape Flats that lead to vi­o­lence, crime and gang­ster­ism.

The call for mil­i­tari­sa­tion sparked de­bate, with many cri­tiquing it as dan­ger­ous and high­light­ing valid con­cerns with re­gard to de­ploy­ing the mil­i­tary to Cape Town’s al­ready volatile town­ships as a so­lu­tion to solve crime and gang-re­lated vi­o­lence.

One such con­cern is South Africa’s painful his­tory of mil­i­tary pres­ence in town­ships; a his­tory that my mother’s gen­er­a­tion sorely re­mem­bers. Dur­ing the 1960s and 1970s, South Africa was a mil­i­tarised state with the apartheid regime be­ing heav­ily re­liant on the armed forces to main­tain con­trol and squash any form of re­sis­tance. By the 1980s, the armed forces had oc­cu­pied town­ships in the hopes of gen­er­at­ing fear among black peo­ple. The resid­ual ef­fects of South Africa’s vi­o­lent past are still ev­i­dent and per­va­sive, with many black South Africans still able to vividly recall the trauma and vi­o­lent na­ture of life un­der apartheid, largely due to the pres­ence of the mil­i­tary in com­mu­ni­ties.

Another con­cern is the ques­tion­able re­form that SANDF has un­der­gone since the tran­si­tion from apartheid to democ­racy. The man­ner in which the po­lice re­spond in try­ing sit­u­a­tions is telling, with apartheid-era tac­tics of­ten used. The 2012 Marikana mas­sacre is one such hor­rific mo­ment that speaks to South Africa’s dis­in­te­gra­tion into a po­lice state. It was one of the most painful mo­ments in South Africa’s his­tory, sig­ni­fy­ing the con­tin­ued dis­re­gard for black lives un­der the racist cap­i­tal­ist sta­tus quo, where ex­ploited work­ers were killed for fight­ing for their in­trin­sic right to hu­man dig­nity – all this un­der a so-called “democ­racy”.

If the po­lice as a state ap­pa­ra­tus is be­ing used to carry out th­ese acts in pur­suit of re­pres­sion, how can we trust the SANDF won’t fol­low suit?

The re­cur­ring theme of the state us­ing its in­sti­tu­tions (such as the de­fence force) and de­ploy­ing them to spa­ces of dis­sent and strug­gle is one such oc­cur­rence that is not only prob­lem­atic but deeply con­cern­ing as the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate con­tin­ues on a path of tur­bu­lence.

In re­cent years, uni­ver­si­ties have be­come hot­beds of po­lit­i­cal con­scious­ness with con­ver­sa­tions around free de­colonised ed­u­ca­tion and in­sti­tu­tion­alised op­pres­sion tak­ing centre stage. We are wit­ness­ing in­creased mil­i­tari­sa­tion to si­lence stu­dent move­ments and cre­ate en­vi­ron­ments of fear – another apartheid-era tac­tic.

The Cape Penin­sula Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy was sur­rounded with barbed wire and pri­vate se­cu­rity. Last week, the Univer­sity of Cape Town re­sem­bled a war zone. Uni­ver­si­ties across the coun­try have re­sorted to mil­i­tari­sa­tion (both pri­vate and “state-spon­sored”) in at­tempts to quell dis­rup­tion.

It is th­ese mea­sures that must be strongly in­ter­ro­gated. How is de­ploy­ing the armed forces an op­tion to solve the le­git­i­mate so­cio-eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal is­sues that the most marginalised are faced with?

In a coun­try that con­tin­ues to be her­alded as “pro­gres­sive”, it is th­ese au­thor­i­tar­ian-like re­sponses that make us be­lieve oth­er­wise.

The mere pres­ence of the se­cu­rity forces (in­clud­ing the po­lice and pri­vate se­cu­rity) on univer­sity cam­puses na­tion­wide have ex­ac­er­bated vi­o­lence on de­fence­less and un­armed stu­dents. In fact, armed forces have them­selves been per­pe­tra­tors of sex­ual vi­o­lence.

Our con­tin­ued dis­re­gard for poor black lives is sor­did and in­dica­tive in how we re­spond to the le­git­i­mate cries of the most marginalised.

How is the mil­i­tary go­ing to solve sys­temic is­sues like eco­nomic marginal­i­sa­tion, dis­pos­ses­sion, poverty, land­less­ness, dis­place­ment, gen­der-based vi­o­lence as well as the es­sen­tial bread-and-but­ter is­sues on the Flats?

How is mil­i­tari­sa­tion go­ing to help us con­front the trauma of our past? A trauma that ripped com­mu­ni­ties and fam­i­lies apart, a trauma that dis­rupted our col­lec­tive sense of be­long­ing and iden­tity, and a trauma that has ev­er­last­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects that still haunt us.

Mil­i­tari­sa­tion in re­sponse to high lev­els of crime has largely failed in South Amer­ica with coun­tries like Brazil, Columbia and Mex­ico wit­ness­ing in­creased lev­els of vi­o­lence and larger net­works of cor­rup­tion, in­clud­ing law en­force­ment agen­cies which, in fact, work with gangs.

The SANDF can­not be­come the so­lu­tion in re­sponse to the largely in­ef­fec­tive, politi­cised, cor­rupt and mis­man­aged po­lice ap­pa­ra­tus in South Africa.

Just last year, a top cop (Colonel Chris Lodewyk Prinsloo) was sen­tenced to 18 years in jail for sell­ing an es­ti­mated R9 mil­lion of lethal il­le­gal weapons and am­mu­ni­tion to Cape Flats gang lords.

Cape Town re­mains a deeply seg­re­gated city, with the rich liv­ing in bub­bles of com­fort and op­u­lence and the poor stuck in un­end­ing cy­cles of poverty, vi­o­lence and de­hu­man­i­sa­tion.

This is be­cause of the decades of so­cial engi­neer­ing and apartheid spa­tial lega­cies that we have yet to ad­dress.

Hence, it is bizarre that we can even con­sider re­sort­ing to strong-arm tac­tics, such as de­ploy­ing the SANDF, as op­posed to deal­ing with the deep-seated is­sues that com­mu­ni­ties on the Cape Flats are fac­ing?



JACK-BOOT RE­SPONSE: Po­lice clash with strik­ing work­ers at a mine near Rusten­burg. The state has con­tin­ued re­spond­ing to dis­sent with apartheid-style tac­tics, in­stead of tack­ling the so­cial-eco­nomic is­sues, writes the author.

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